U.S. POLITICIANS: KEEP HANDS OFF INTERNATIONAL SPORTS

© Rene A. Henry

 

They’re at it again!  Will they ever learn that U.S. politicians must stay out of international sports?  The governing bodies of Olympic and international sports have enough political problems of their own.  They don’t need unwelcome interference by our politicians.  Yet, now a wannabe Senator from the state of Washington has launched a campaign to bar Iran from this year’s soccer World Cup.

 

This latest incident of international sports ignorance is from Republican Mike McGavick who is challenging incumbent Democrat Senator Maria Cantwell.  He protests that the Iranian team will compete in Nuremberg, June 11 against Mexico in the same group with Angola and Portugal.  The U.S. is in a group with Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic. 

 

In an interview with Alicia Mundy of the Seattle Times bureau in Washington, D.C., McGavick was passionate saying: “You cannot have this.  Nuremberg, where the Nazis marched, where we held war-crimes trials, and that’s where Iran’s president will attend the game?”

 

The Bush Administration ended up with egg on its face earlier this year after Treasury Secretary John Snow announced that Cuba could not compete in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.  Fidel Castro upstaged the White House when he said that any money won by the Cuban team would be donated to the victims of Katrina.  This embarrassing turn of events insured Cuba’s participation

 

To add insult to injury, the U.S. team never made it past the second round while Cuba, placed in one of the toughest competition brackets, went to the finals only to lose 10-6 to Japan. 

 

Hopefully the powers that be in Washington in 2009, when the next World Baseball Classic is scheduled, will learn from this experience.

 

In 1980, the late Lloyd Cutler, then White House counsel, told President Jimmy Carter that if the U.S. threatened to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow that the Soviets would leave Afghanistan.   Eventually the Soviets did leave Afghanistan only to have their void filled by American troops.

 

Politicians should heed the advice of Hispanic-American Philosopher George Santayana who warned that if we did not remember the past, we would be condemned to relive it.

 

 

When our politicians interfere in international politics, the first to get hurt, and hurt the most, are our athletes and their coaches.  Then there are the administrators who get passed over for office or appointment to an important committee on an international sports federation.  And, also there are the referees and officials from the U.S. who do not get assigned to games.  All of this happened because of the 1980 Moscow boycott.  And, it most likely will happen again.

 

If McGavick took time to learn more about international sport he would know that there is no way Sepp Blatter, a Swiss national and the president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), would even consider his demand.  It must embarr Chuck Blazer, the U.S. representative who has been a member of the FIFA executive committee for 10 years.

 

During the Reagan Administration the State Department had a senior position dedicated to international sports politics that liaised with our national governing bodies and Olympic committee.  The job no longer exists, but is needed to help control outbursts by uninformed politicians who do not understand international sport.

 

Politicians must stop using sport as a weapon when diplomacy fails.

 

Continued mistakes like this will hurt our athletes, coaches, administrators and officials.  It is only a matter of time before politicians in other countries start calling for our U.S. teams to be barred from international competition unless demands are met to change our foreign policy regarding any number of countries.  Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen!